Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde schools police chief who led the response to the shooting that killed 19 students and two teachers last month, has been placed on administrative leave, the district’s superintendent said Wednesday.
The leave is effective immediately and comes the day after an official with the Texas Department of Public Safety called the police response an “abject failure.” A district spokesperson did not answer questions from BuzzFeed News on Wednesday if the leave is paid or unpaid.
Since the shooting on May 24, Arredondo has taken the majority of the blame for what was one of the deadliest school shootings in history. Steve McCraw, director of DPS, told state lawmakers on Tuesday that the incident commander “decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children”; officers waited more than an hour to confront the shooter and attempt to open the unlocked door. Arredondo has told the Texas Tribune that he never considered himself the incident commander in spite of the fact that he was the top cop in the police department with jurisdiction over Uvalde school campuses.
In a press release on Wednesday, Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Hal Harrell said he had originally intended to wait for the outcome of an investigation into the police response before making any personnel decisions.
“Today, I am still without details of the investigations being conducted by various agencies. Because of the lack of clarity that remains and the unknown timing of when I will receive the results of the investigations, I have made the decision to place Chief Arredondo on administrative leave effective on this date."
Arredondo’s removal from active police work comes as the city has also wrestled with how to handle his recent election to the Uvalde City Council. On Tuesday, the city council considered a proposal to grant Arredondo a leave of absence, ultimately voting to deny the request after passionate pleas from members of the community, including family members of the children who were killed.
Berlinda Arreola, grandmother of 10-year-old victim Amerie Jo Garza, said she understood the city couldn’t simply fire him following his election victory.
“Do what you have to do. But get him out of our faces,” she said. “And no, he does not deserve an administrative leave with pay.”
“Please, please, we’re begging,” she added. “Get this man out of our lives.”
Arredondo was not present at Tuesday night’s meeting, and if he continues to miss meetings, he could be removed from the council for abandoning office.
Meanwhile, a fight is ongoing over public records, including video footage, that could provide the full picture of what happened on May 24. Various local and state agencies have so far pushed back against media organizations’ requests for documents and other information.
On Wednesday, Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez filed a lawsuit against the DPS after his open records request, including for a ballistics report, went unanswered.
“Several of the children might have been saved, if law enforcement personnel had engaged the [shooter] sooner,” the lawsuit reads.
Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin also blasted DPS during Tuesday’s council meeting for answering questions from state lawmakers without briefing local officials. He also disputed a May 31 statement by DPS that Arredondo was not responding to investigators’ questions.
McLaughlin told his fellow Uvalde residents that he would fight for more transparency.
“We’re just in the dark like you are, and we’re tired of it.”